Saturday, February 3, 2007

Guest blogger: Eilat (II)

by Ernest Stock

I came back from a long weekend in Eilat the day before the explosive charge went off that killed three of its citizens. All reports emphasized that the tourist sites were a good distance away from the blast and were not affected. But there was a connection. The victims operated the bakery which supplied the fresh bread and rolls to the hotels for their guests' breakfast.

And there's reason to fear that Monday's suicide bomber shattered more than the storefront in a placid neighborhood at Israel's southern resort, and the lives of the men who worked in it.

What had brought me and my wife to Eilat that Friday morning was the Israel Chamber Orchestra's annual classical chamber music festival that took place at the Royal Beach Hotel. The place was fully booked, and its spacious banquet hall reverberated to exquisite sounds three times a day. In between concerts, musicians, soloists and music lovers mingled on the beach or at the poolside; the January sun was warm enough for the hardier ones among us to test the water.

Saturday evening's performance concluded with a dazzling rendition of Johann Strauss waltzes, which the Hungarian guest conductor, Gabor Hollerung, prefaced with some remarks. The waltzes, he said, expressed the composer's nostalgia for the dream that was late 19th century Vienna; he was already full of foreboding that it would not last. Then the conductor told the Israeli audience that for him Eilat was also a dream, a peaceable idyll in a strife-torn part of the world. It was his prayer that it would last for many more years to come. Then he mounted the podium.

Less than two days later, the bomber struck.

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